You could argue that Motorola was ahead of its time when it released a smartphone docking accessory for the Atrix 4G in 2011. Without a doubt, it was an innovative idea: users could dock their phones into a laptop-esque accessory and essentially use just one device for all of their computing needs. Conceptually, this arrangement sounds appealing due to its simplicity. But unfortunately for Motorola, its "Lapdock" accessory was a complete flop and utter failure. The accessory received nearly universal disdain from the broader tech media.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has just unveiled a very similar accessory at its hardware event this week, called the Microsoft Display Dock. By plugging in a new Lumia 950 or 950 XL with a USB-C cord, users can essentially dock their smartphones into an existing desktop setup. Can Microsoft execute on Motorola's vision?
Display Dock looks like a winner ... probably
Microsoft's new Display Dock looks like it has some real potential, primarily because it has an immediate advantage over Motorola's ill-fated Lapdock.
The software giant has put a lot of effort into making Windows 10 a truly cross-device operating system that can power a wide array of gadgets. It seems that after years of trying to strike the right balance between the old and the new, Microsoft has finally found the right balance with Windows 10. The new OS powers everything from smartphones to tablets to desktops to laptops, and just about everything in between (even the Xbox One). That allows a smartphone running Windows 10 to seamlessly switch to a desktop interface, which Android was never built for.
This targets Microsoft's strongest smartphone markets
It's also worth noting that this strategy directly appeals to the markets where Microsoft has its strongest positions: emerging markets. Windows Phone has made inroads in emerging markets thanks to its affordable price points, and it's also in these markets where many users rely predominantly on mobile devices for Internet access and general computing needs.
Smartphones are often a user's primary, if not only, way to get online in these markets. That's why the Display Dock's potential is even more potent in these geographies, since it can dramatically augment the computing experience if a smartphone is your only computing device. Emerging markets are now driving most of the growth in the global smartphone market anyway.
The biggest unknown: price
One of the Lapdock's most fatal flaws was its price. The device cost an incredible $500 when it launched. Considering the fact that the Lapdock launched when the subsidy model was in full swing and people were only expected to pay $200 upfront for their smartphones, asking $500 was simply untenable.
Microsoft has not officially announced pricing for its Display Dock, but since it is essentially a small connector hub with various ports, chances are it will be quite reasonable. Of course, it won't include the actual display and input accessories like Motorola's Lapdock did, but desktop monitors and keyboards aren't hard to come by.
It's probably a fairly low-risk endeavor considering it's a bona fide hub, but Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile can use all the help it can get.
Evan Niu, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.